I thought the comments from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times about how proud he was of the 2020 team for reaching the World Series were clearly complimentary. But I’ve seen reaction from a number of people — on social media, in blogs and via email — who took his words differently, to be a slam of the players.
I had the benefit of hearing everything Sternberg had to say when framing that passage of the story, so I want to share his extended answer to provide fuller context.
The question was:
How proud are you of what the Rays accomplished — beating the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros in the playoffs before losing the World Series to the Dodgers in six games, with a lead slipping away in the sixth inning?
“It’s nothing but pride. I had pride in the seventh inning in that game, I had pride on the bus ride back to the hotel, I had pride the next day. I still feel it, and it’s the word that I’ve used all along.
“It didn’t take long — it was the flight home — to look back. When I saw the (opponents’) payrolls — we knew inherently who they were and what they were — but when you see them, the amount and the players that were being run out at us for three straight series. And the Blue Jays were no softies by any stretch; my gosh, it was all one-run games all year with those guys. It was an almost insurmountable task to get to where we got to when we did. And even to get to six full games with the Dodgers, I mean, it’s stunning. Really nothing short of stunning.
“We we were certainly set up for it. We were incredibly fortunate in a lot of ways to get to where we got to last year, and we’re looking forward to going forward. We know we’ve got a very competitive team, and a lot’s going to depend on health, and a lot’s going to depend on performance, obviously. Last year, the amount of injuries even we couldn’t withstand on the pitching side. And it was just a stunning number, and how that’s going to affect us this year, you know it is going to be significant. But we’ll see.”
With the core you have, I would assume you’re still relatively optimistic looking ahead?
“It’s funny, because I think 20, probably 22-to-25 teams are pretty optimistic where their team is this year. It became pretty stark. When you look at, when you say the core, when you play a team like the Yankees and you play the Astros and you play the Dodgers, and you look at the players on the field, our core or our group or our players, it’s hard to find too many of them who would be starters on any of those teams. So it’s not like we’ve got this group of Hall-of-Famers and All-Stars. They’re tremendous players and we’re ecstatic to have them, and and if we didn’t like them as players we wouldn’t have them on the team, they wouldn’t be here and we’d have different guys.
“But when you think about it through that lens. I think whether you’re the Reds or the White Sox or the Blue Jays or the Angels or the Giants, you’re looking at your ballclub and you’re going, ‘Gee, I like my core.’ So we’re really no different than than most other teams in that respect. But it’s a question of as (the Rays) did this last year and the year before and the year before that, pull together as a team, be selfless and try to win a bunch of games by one run.”
For those who might have missed it, this was the passage in Wednesday’s article:
For the Rays to get to the World Series, especially winning a five-game series over the Yankees and a seven-game set against the Astros given the higher-payrolled talent they have “was an almost insurmountable task,” Sternberg said. “Really, nothing short of stunning.”
Taking the star-studded Dodgers to a sixth game was another impressive accomplishment, he said, noting the “pretty stark” differences in lineups. “It’s hard to find too many of (the Rays) who would be starters on any of those teams,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve got this group of Hall-of-Famers and All-Stars.”
Comparing the Rays’ run to the Series to a Grucci fireworks show, Sternberg said it felt like it ended “with a whimper’' in the 3-1 Game 6 loss. Similar, in some ways, to their previous World Series appearance in 2008, a five-game defeat by the Phillies. “You just sort of wandered out,” he said.
Sternberg said he understood Kevin Cash’s controversial decision to take starter Blake Snell out of the game with a 1-0 lead, one on and one out in the sixth, even though the Dodgers scored two runs after reliever Nick Anderson took over.
“I got it,” Sternberg said. “I have no issue with it. It’s hard to try to manage or plan to win a game 1-0. If we had a 3-0 lead or we had confidence we were going to get three runs, we would have approached it differently that inning. But we didn’t. And we weren’t.”